Sunday, October 5, 2008

Field Trip to San Diego Maritime Museum

(The Bark Star of India, San Diego Harbor)

Last Monday I drove all fifty miles into downtown San Diego and the Harbor to take the boys on a field trip with our town's home school park day. I found parking just across street from the five ships that make up the Maritime Museum and we quickly crossed Harbor Drive and met up with the Spragues and another family we didn't know but who had a few kids in tow (Frida and Morgan) whom we do know. Two older male docents divided us into two groups of seven each, and we started off with the other mom (Laura, I think), her son, and Frida, Sheri's daughter to tour the Medea first, a luxury pleasure steam yacht built in 1904. We admired the velvet curtains and well-appointed cabins as well as the beautiful woodwork before climbing aboard the Berkeley (built in 1898), a ferry that took up to 1700 passengers between Oakland and San Francisco until after the Bay Bridge was built and was taken out of service in 1958.

(Docent Bob answers one of T's many questions)

The Berkeley now serves as the main Maritime Museum area with many exhibits and the perfunctory gift shop. We also toured one of the pilothouses -- the Berkeley has two, so that it never had to turn around in the bay; the captain and crew just switched to the other pilothouse and the steam engines were shifted the opposite direction, and off they went. The main floor contained beautifully restored tiled and wooden floors and shining wood passenger benches with opalescent glass clerestory windows above, giving a kind of chapel-like feel. Half of the benches have been removed to create a dance floor where the Berkeley often hosts wedding receptions. We were taken below deck to see how the steam engines worked, and another docent took over at that point and explained how the steam engines worked and even ran them for a short time for us.

(Russian sub)

From the Berkeley, we were taken to tour a 1970's era Russian submarine, but I decided to take a break and not try to crawl through a sub. So I waiting next to a beautiful ship and watched the bay waters ripple beneath me on the dock and also snapped a few good shots of the Star of India from atop the sub. Nearly 300 feet long, the sub was quite a sight to be seen from the outside at least, and the boys thoroughly enjoyed the tour and clambering around in the sub's close quarters.

(The Surprise, a replica of the frigate HMS Rose)

We next toured the Surprise, a replica of an 18th century frigate the HMS Rose. Although the original was built in 1757 in England, the replica was built in Nova Scotia in 1970. The original Rose played a part in the British invasion of New York during the Revolutionary War. In 2001 it was purchased by 20th Century Fox to be used in their film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. The Maritime Museum purchased the ship in 2004 and rechristened it the Surprise. We very much enjoyed touring the deck, especially the ship's wheel and bell, and looking up into the extensive rigging. Below deck were cannon and hammocks for the sailors as well as the captain's quarters forward. She is a beautiful ship and has an air of age about her, even though she is younger than I.

(The Star of India, from atop the Russian sub)

But the crowning glory of the Maritime Museum is the Star of India, the oldest active sailing vessel in the world. I remember sailing alongside the Star on her first voyage in over 40 years when she was restored in time for the Bicentennial on July 4, 1976. (The misery of seasickness of the rough day with so many sailboats in the bay and ocean is what I remember most vividly.) She was built in 1863 in Ramsay on the Isle of Man, from which my great-great-great grandfather left for America. It's quite possible that some of our family (the Quayles) worked in the Ramsay shipyards and perhaps on the Star herself. Her restoration took place from 1959-1976 after arriving in San Diego in 1927. Her original name was the Eurterpe, for the Greek muse of music (renamed the Star of India in 1906), and she made over 20 trips around the world as an emigrant and trade ship between Britain and New Zealand after serving as a cargo ship between Britain and India. The Star of India is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as of 2001 as the oldest active sailing ship in the world.

(Sails of the Star from her deck)

I stepped onto the Star with a feeling of homecoming. In all the forty-some years I have lived in San Diego, and in the several times I have watched the Star sail, and in the many, many times I have driven or walked past her moored on Harbor Drive, I had never boarded her until our field trip this week. We caressed her captain's wheel, toured the first-class cabin and later the cabins for sailors and (below deck) the lower-class passengers as well as the expansive cargo hold. We peered up into the sails and rigging and examined the hefty anchor that was displayed on the deck. Below deck, the kids found some fun activities. T and J worked at the rigging station which had a mast and yardarm at about 18" above the wooden floor with rigging and 3-foot-long sails attached that allowed them the challenge of trying to climb across and stand on the rigging while lowering or raising sails. The younger kids found a small play boat on the other side of the immense cargo hold where they could spin the captain's wheel, climb into the bird's nest, pull on ropes here and there, and generally have a blast.

(T on "rigging" below deck of the Star)

After a two-hour guided tour by our wonderful docent, Bob, who patiently answered all the boys' questions and gave us an excellent tour and chance to do several activities hands-on, we were tired (or at least I was). We quickly explored the gift shop, snapped a few more photos of the ships from the sidewalk, and then made our way fifty miles homeward, much richer in the history of San Diego and the world for our field trip to the San Diego Maritime Museum.

(T, J, and B on cannon along Harbor Drive sidewalk)

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